Posted: 10:36 am Monday, April 11th, 2011
Poll: Should the Dolphins draft heavily-scrutinized QB Ryan Mallett in the first round? And how real are his “character issues?”
By Post Staff
Ryan Mallett already has won one unofficial award during this year’s NFL Draft process:
Mallett, the rocket-armed quarterback from Arkansas, has faced a barrage of negative attention since the draft process kicked into high gear in January:
He’s not a leader; he’s a bad seed in the locker room; he’s cocky and arrogant; his footwork is terrible; he’s not an accurate passer; he was combative and irritable at his Combine press conference; he has a drug problem.
We’ve seen this before: Former safety Louis Oliver plummeted down draft boards because of rumors of drugs and character issues; so did Warren Sapp, Percy Harvin and some guy named Dan Marino.
What gets lost in the discussion about Mallett is whether any of these allegations are actually true, and whether Mallett, who stands 6-foot-7 and says he can throw the ball 80-plus yards, can actually play quarterback in the NFL.
“When I saw that stuff, I laughed about it,” Mallett said. “Seven thousand-plus yards and 60 touchdowns in two seasons. That’s how I respond to that.”
The Dolphins need a long-term answer at quarterback, and Mallett very likely will be available if they opt to pick at 15 instead of trade down.
The Dolphins have not invested a first-round draft pick in a quarterback since Marino retired after the 1999 season, and are still looking for an answer at the position, 12 years later.
Should the Dolphins finally pull the trigger on Mallett? And how much legitimacy is there to all of the negatives surrounding Mallett? Depends on the expert you ask.
Ask Mel Kiper if the Dolphins should take Mallett at 15, and the answer is a resounding “No.” Kiper said last month that he doesn’t think the current Dolphins’ regime has enough time to draft another project at quarterback. He said last week he believes Mallett is a high second-round pick, an opinion that is not unique in mock draft circles.
“I would not take a quarterback that high,” Kiper said last week. “I wasn’t a huge (Chad) Henne guy coming out of Michigan, but the kid deserves more of a chance. You’re not going to move forward with Ryan Mallett. You’re getting him for the future. If you’re Miami, you try to build around Henne, help him out.”
Tony Pauline of Sports Illustrated is a little more bullish on Mallett, saying he could certainly become an elite NFL quarterback. But Pauline says Mallett comes with a “buyer beware” tag because of both physical and character flaws.
“He’s the prototypical boom or bust kind of guy,” Pauline said. “If you get the quarterback on the field that threw at the Combine and threw during his Pro Day, you’ve got a franchise type of quarterback. But if you get a guy that in the Alabama game was all over the place with passes and missing open receivers and forcing throws and making bad decisions, you’ve got a guy that’s going to be out of the league real quick.”
Pauline said Mallett’s character issues – particularly about leadership – date back to his days as a freshman at Michigan. Going back through the archives during the 2007 season, we find Mallett to be a highly-respected young talent who struggled in dealing with adversity when asked to fill in for Henne, who had suffered a shoulder injury.
“People call him arrogant,” his mother, Debbie Mallett, told the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News in 2007. “And sometimes he probably is. Because we’ve taught our kids to believe in themselves. But he really does have a soft spot. And he’s usually for the underdog.”
He enthusiastically told reporters “let’s play again!” after leading Michigan to an early-season victory over Penn State. He also irked older teammates in that same game by showboating – flipping the football underhanded – after a touchdown. “I was like, ‘I’m sorry Jake (Long). Don’t hurt me,’” Mallett told reporters after the game.
Mallett also avoided the media completely after a tough November loss to Wisconsin.
“He’s not highly thought of in a lot of circles, and by people that have had experience with him,” Pauline said. “With the lockout, coaches are getting a little bit more talkative than the scouts usually are. So now more people are talking about what was known in the scouting circles for the longest time.”
But some of the criticism seems to be misguided, particularly the notion that he was surly and contemptuous at his Combine press conference about his off-field issues. I attended the press conference in Indianapolis, and came away fairly impressed that he didn’t blow his top after being asked the same question eight different times. See for yourself:
On the field, Mallett’s talent is undeniable, says Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films and executive producer of ESPN’s X’s and O’s film-junkie show, NFL Matchup. Cosell, one of the few people on the planet who gets access to coaches tape, said he would not at all be surprised if a team selects Mallett in the first round, calling him “the best pure thrower in the draft.”
“This has been totally lost in the discussion about his other activities, but Ryan Mallett is really, really good at the line of scrimmage,” Cosell said. “Of all the top quarterbacks coming out in the draft, he had the most responsibility at the line of scrimmage for checks, for audibles, the run game – which is major in the NFL, to recognize the strength of the defensive formation, and know how to check runs from one side to the other. He did all those things at Arkansas.”
The criticism that Mallett is immobile and cannot run also seems misleading. In this YouTube highlight video, nearly half of his throws are made while on the run, and with good accuracy.
Still, Mallett is not perfect on the field, either.
“No quarterback comes into the NFL a finished product, but I would say the main issue with him is his ability to react to pressure,” Cosell said. “To move within the pocket, re-set his feet and then deliver the football with the same accuracy that he does when he’s in the pocket. He moves and he loses his focus a bit, and then he loses his accuracy.”
“Now, can it be corrected? Physically, it can be, because you can make their feet quicker. The main question that goes with it is the ability to maintain downfield focus while you’re moving.”
So the Dolphins have a big question to answer in the next two weeks – After 28 years without drafting a quarterback in the first round, should they pull the trigger on Mallett in the first round? Because if they don’t, another team (Seahawks? Vikings? Titans?) very well could.
“If there are a ton of red flags that come up – not just the media banter, but really, true red flags – then he won’t be drafted in the first round,” Cosell said. “But on pure talent, I could definitely see a team drafting him in the first round.”